Swinging on the River

February 27, 2014

Spring is the first time in the year to check for swing – if you’re by the river, that is.  A rise in the temperatures, a change on the calendar, a short walk to the water and the boats will be there:  the Washington College Crew Team during the week, and the Chester River Rowing Club on the weekends.  The early bird-ers can catch the view in the mornings but the afternoon strollers can watch the grace and beauty of the sport then:

There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define.  Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it.  Others find it but can’t sustain it.  It’s called ‘swing.’  It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others.  It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant.  Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once.  Each minute action–each subtle turning of wrists–must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other.  Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars.  Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own.  Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation.  Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language.  Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.                                    p 161, Boys in the Boat

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